Human Exceptionalism

Growing New Fingers From “Pig Matrix?”

The Wall Street Journal (no link available) reports that scientists are treating wounded Iraqi War veterans with a substance from pigs that seems to resurrect the ability to regenerate organs and other body parts–an ability possessed by fetuses but lost after birth. In this case, the scientists hope to regenerate parts of fingers the soldiers lost. From the story: “Doctors plan to treat them with a fine powder called extracellular matrix, harvested from pig bladders. The material, found in all animals, is the scaffolding that cells latch onto as they divide and grow into tissue and body parts. In the human body, it was long thought to be inert. But scientists have discovered that it appears to activate latent biological processes that spur healing and regenerate tissue.”

This procedure is finding growing application throughout the world: “More than 500,000 people world-wide have had matrix-based treatments since 1999, according to Johnson & Johnson and Cook. Other potential uses are in development. No significant side effects have been linked to the treatment, Dr. Badylak says.

That a single substance can be used to treat such different conditions reflects matrix’s capacity to adapt to its environment. In the shoulder, for example, it promotes the formation of tendon tissue, in the lower urinary tract, the formation of bladder or urine-channel tissue, and in a diabetic ulcer, of normal skin.”

Gee. And not a destroyed embryo in sight. I think that the ideologues of biotechnology have made a terrible mistake putting so much emphasis and vitriol into overcoming President Bush’s moderate funding restrictions for ESCR. Most of biotechnology, such as this area of research, is completely uncontroversial. By placing so much emphasis on trying to bulldozer its way into overcoming ethical objections to funding the destruction of embryos, the biotechnology industry divides the country and misses the chance to unite us behind wonderful research in which we can all row in the same direction.

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